I love Anne Korkeakivi's work, especially Shining Sea, a transcendent novel about great love and great loss. I met her at a book event, and then I got to love her, too. We got to talking about our paperbacks and decided we would share the conversation. We hope it's helpful and fun to read.
Anne: As a largely expat author, here’s my strategy: transmutation. I look at, for example, social media outreach not as promotion but as a chance to interact with other bookish people, something I don’t get to do much in my day-to-day life overseas. Same for events and book festivals. This is all life, right? I make a point of enjoying it.
Tessa Hadley told me once that no sooner does she send a manuscript off to her agent than she starts work on a new one. That new work-in-progress becomes a psychological buffer. This doesn’t fit with my process, to date--I like to spend a long time researching and getting to know my characters before I start writing--but it seems incredibly smart to me.
How about you? Have you developed an effective strategy? And how about paperback promotion? The book is the same, but both the book-selling and book-buying process are different.
Caroline: I totally agree with having something new to work on, otherwise I just get obsessed with all the details. How is the book doing? What can I do to make it do even better? Plus, what I love the most is that deep state of being in the zone and writing. I feel like I killed myself doing publicity for the hardcover of Cruel Beautiful World, all those planes, trains, and Lyfts! Paperback is a lot different. People are more apt to wander into a bookstore and grab up a book, and I think essays out there do a lot to get the word out. And maybe pleading on social media, too!
Mostly, though, what is so lovely is I am writing my next novel, it's sold already, but I still have to write it and it's scaring me! Did writing your novel scare you at all? And how did you deal with that?
Anne: Very first, congrats on having sold the next novel!
Writing my novels has never scared me. It’s the thought of not writing them that scares me. But I've not been in your position; perhaps it’s more frightening when you have a deal and deadline for a novel in hand. How do you balance working on the next novel while getting the last one into publication? My characters tend to populate my head so thoroughly that I find I need to put them to bed before I can start hanging out with a whole other crew. Or do you mean that you start something new as soon as the former book has gone to press?
Caroline: That's so fascinating, Anne. The thought of not writing is scary, indeed. I had a four-month period a few years ago where I was so overwhelmed, I actually said, that's it, I give up. And I didn't write, and then that damned hunger started up and there I was. It's half and half. On the one hand, I love having a deal because then I can sigh and say, oh thank God, I don't have to worry for two years. But then there is the HUGE worry of "Oh my God, I spent my whole advance and I have to deliver a novel and I have no idea what I am doing!
I always start thinking of a new novel when I am nearing the end of the 67th draft (yeah 67...) so I cannot give myself space to panic.
So, if you hadn't been a writer, what would you have been? I have been a failure as a receptionist (gave Dr. Foot the podiatrist the calls from Dr. Foot the obstetrician and was fired), a worker at a factory that made dirty puzzles (I left after a woman had her hair caught in the glue press), a copywriter for a public TV station, a teacher for juvenile delinquent boys (Total failure)... So it's lucky I found something I can do!
Anne: I’m glad you didn’t give up writing, Caroline. It sounds as though being a novelist is much better suited for you than working as a medical receptionist! My childhood dream was to be a musician. As I matured, many people assumed I’d become a classicist, because I was a dab hand at Ancient Greek translation and I really did love it. But there was never any question in my mind that I’d be a writer. In a way, the predetermination of it bothered me. But it just was.
So, here we both are—novelists. What you said about paperbacks being bought differently is so true. Paperbacks also are very much about book groups. Bless the book groups! Still, I’ll be doing some events. It’s fun to celebrate. I’ll have a launch on August 8 in Brooklyn and do something in the Boston area two days later. Then in September I’m going out the west coast--San Diego, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles--which I didn’t do for the hardcover. I’m incredibly excited about it, because Shining Sea is about a SoCal family, so it feels like bringing the book home. Also each event is different, and I like trying things. I’m particularly happy that one event involves fundraising—as writers we need to do what we can.
How about you? It’s a little tricky doing a summer release.
Caroline: Do you think there is such a thing as summer books? I don't. I don't think emotions have a season. I don't want lighter books in summer. I still want the dark, thorny ones that crack your heart open. I do, however, think that paperbacks make a difference because people are more willing to take a chance on them--and they often buy doubles! I saw that happen with my first two novels for Algonquin, Pictures of You and Is This Tomorrow, which were paperback originals. This upset me at the time because I thought I'd lose reviews and sales, but instead, both were New York Times Bestsellers! I was thrilled. So when Algonquin told me they were going to put Cruel Beautiful World in hardback, I begged them not to! So I'm really looking forward to it being out in paperback.
Except that all my PR feels like it was done already for the hardback!
Anne: In a recent article in Broadly, Ilana Masad suggested that the idea of “summer” books might be tied to a vision of the world as a place where women take the summer off while the men are working. I agree with you—and Masad—that there’s something fishy in the very concept. I asked my publicist once, though, in what way Shining Sea might be a “summer” book and she said because the story takes the reader many places, and in summer people are dreaming of traveling.
At any rate, the nice thing is if you’re pretty well done with promotion already, Caroline, you don’t have to worry about those planes, trains, and Lyfts you mentioned. Enjoy!